How to Reconcile Participation and Representation

In On Revolution and other writings, Arendt advocates the form of political organization known as the council system. This aspect of her thought has been sharply criticized or — more often — simply ignored. How, both sympathizers and detractors wonder, could Arendt in all earnest propose the council system as an alternative to parliamentary democracy? The aim of the present paper is to defend Arendt’s position. I argue that her enthusiasm for the council system is an integral element of her thought and defend it against the criticisms it has provoked. Furthermore, I highlight the relevance of her arguments for the current debate about the idea of deliberative democracy. Her thesis that (top-down) party politics and (bottom-up) deliberative politics are antithetical and hence cannot coexist poses a serious challenge to the idea that parliamentary democracy can be made more deliberative while leaving its basic framework intact.

Totschnig, Wolfhart, How to Reconcile Participation and Representation: A Defense of Arendt’s Argument for the Council System (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

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